White House praises Egypt election, but concerns persist

The White House is cautiously praising the outcome of Egypt’s first competitive presidential election, won by Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party.

“The United States congratulates Dr. Mohamed Morsi on his victory in Egypt’s Presidential election, and we congratulate the Egyptian people for this milestone in their transition to democracy,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney in a statement.

“We look forward to working together with President-elect Morsi and the government he forms, on the basis of mutual respect, to advance the many shared interests between Egypt and the United States,” he said.

Morsi won 52 percent of the vote in a run-off election.

President Obama later called Moris to offer his congratulations. He also called General Ahmed Shafiq, who was defeated by Morsi, and urged him to play a role in Egypt's transition by supporting the democratic process.

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Morsy’s victory could complicate the relationship between the United States and Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood is credited with spawning the Islamic movement that has come to dominate politics in much of the Middle East. The founding members of al Qaeda were formerly affiliated with the Brotherhood but al Qaeda now takes a critical view it for espousing change through non-violent means.

The Muslim Brotherhood has also worked with Hamas, a violent anti-Israeli group in the Gaza Strip.

Another worry with the election is that Egypt's military, which restricted the president's power before the vote, will be slow to give up power.

Egypt’s senior generals have promised to relinquish power at the end of the month, but Egypt as of now lacks both a parliament and constitution.

Carney did not mention Egypt's military leaders in the White House statement, but State and Pentagon officials have warned Egypt could risk losing billions in aid if the military does not hand over power to the elected government.

"This is a critical moment in Egypt, and the world is watching closely," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, according to the Associated Press. "We are particularly concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military's hold on power."

Pentagon press secretary George Little said the U.S. was troubled by the timing of the military leaders' announcement, just as polls closed Sunday night for the presidential election, the Associated Press reported. He said the U.S. would urge them "to relinquish power to civilian elected authorities and to respect the universal rights of the Egyptian people and the rule of law."

Carney urged the new Egyptian government to protect the rights of women and religious minorities.

“We believe in the importance of the new Egyptian government upholding universal values, and respecting the rights of all Egyptian citizens – including women and religious minorities such as Coptic Christians,” he said, adding “the new Egyptian government has both the legitimacy and responsibility of representing a diverse and courageous citizenry.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) Kerry joined the White House in lauding the election while acknowledging concern over the Muslim Brotherhood’s past.

“Obviously American concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood’s past statements and positions are widely shared and well understood,” he said. “But it would be a mistake for us to pull back from our engagement with a free and democratic Egypt. This is a time to test intentions not to prejudge them.”

He said the “Egyptian people deserve enormous praise for conducting the first democratically-elected presidential election of the post-Mubarak era.”

He said he has met Morsi and received commitments that his administration will protect women’s rights, minority rights and the right to free expression and assembly.

This story was posted at 8:23 and updated at 7:16 p.m.